Counseling is neither easy nor simple. But the problems connected with it can be reduced to a minimum by carefully adhering to biblical directives. Those who fail to do so harm themselves and reduce the possibility of being effective. Because it involves the welfare of others, how counseling is done is vital. Some, becoming aware of the dangers, withdraw altogether and disobey the command to restore one another. God will not allow that; He has called me to this ministry as a believer. Since I may not back out of the responsibility to counsel, I must learn how to set proper goals and objectives, how to develop appropriate attitudes, and how to avoid the many pitfalls inherent in counseling .
The ultimate goal behind all Christian activity, including counseling, is to glorify God. (Col. 3:23) Christians are never to be humanistic. In each endeavor, there is an overall objective that one seeks to reach in order to glorify God. What,then, is the overall objective of lay counseling? The Apostle Paul calls us to restore erring brothers and sisters to their place of usefulness to Christ in His church. (Gal. 6:1) Restoration to usefulness, therefor, is the objective of Christian counseling. Whenever you counsel another you need to ask, “How has his usefulness been diminished by his problem.” And you must not rest until usefulness is restored.
The goal of restoration ought to guide the whole of one’s attitudes and activities. The counselor counsels not to punish, or to expose the failures of another. He counsels to restore the person to usefulness. Moreover, with this goal constantly in mind, the counselor will do what he is doing not only to help the counselee (as important as that is), but also to accomplish other goals. It is perfectly correct to care for the counselee and to seek his well-being; apart from such caring in which the counselor may even “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice,” neither the ultimate goal (God’s glory) nor the overall objective (restoration) are possible. However, Christian counselors, unlike others, are not merely oriented toward the counselee; they want to honor Christ and, like Him, they also care about His body, the church. The welfare of the whole body is adversely affected by the failure of any part. Counseling, therefore, is not only an interaction between a counselor and one or more persons in a counseling room; it also interacts in any number of ways with the whole flock and all of its activities.
The one essential attitude, beyond caring for the counselee’s well-being, is having a spirit of meekness. This is an attitude of being humble and gentle. Such a counselor is not weak. Someone who approaches you in a spirit (attitude) of meekness can have a much greater impact than one who judges, or bullies, or makes demands. Whatever force he possesses is in his character and personality. In practice, he is the opposite of the person who would say to you, “Well, I see that you’ve been at it again,” or, “Well, I told you so.” Rather, you are more likely to hear him say something like, “I’m here to help you because you need it and because Christ sent me. I am not any better than you are.” Indeed, his attitude is expressed most fully when he says, “I’m helping you today, but who knows whether I may need your help next week?”
In Galatians 6, Paul wisely points to a phenomenon in counseling that is well known to us in other areas of life. A drowning man may also drown his rescuer along with himself unless the one doing the life-saving knows about this possibility and has learned the proper precautions to avert it. Many counselors, for example, have become involved sexually with clients whose sexual problems were the object of counseling. This phenomenon may explain Jude’s concern about showing mercy to others “with caution, hating even the clothing spotted from the flesh.” (v.23) One must despise and avoid the sin that has debilitated a counselee as he would the pus running from an open wound caused by an infectious disease. With all he does in counseling, he must take the utmost care to maintain a righteous condition so that he will not become a victim of the sinful condition of the counselee. A wise counselor will do whatever is biblically legitimate to preclude self-infection.
All counseling aims at change. Without this element, a person may be attempting to do something, but whatever that is, it isn’t counseling. In the word restore, a term that is used often in Christian counseling, the need for change is clearly implied. Something (or someone) that has lost its usefulness is changed (or restored) into something (or someone) that is now, as a result, useful for the purpose for which it was made. The counselor must determine what is it that must be changed? What will bring about that change? The goal of the counseling sessions is to find answers to these questions. There are a lot of sayings that have been written over the years about change, or lack thereof, but my favorite is Nothing changes if nothing changes.
In order to counsel effectively, the lay counselor must spend much time studying the Scriptures carefully so that he may minister the Word with accuracy and efficacy. The proper study of counseling, as of man himself, is the Bible.